* Most papers (except those in preparation) are available to download for personal use.
Click on a citation below for corresponding abstract and download link. *

Forthcoming / In Prep

Sarkissian, H. "Confucius and the superorganism." In The Oneness Hypothesis: Beyond the Boundary of Self. Edited by Philip Ivanhoe, Owen Flanagan, Victoria Harrison, Eric Schwitzgebel, and Hagop Sarkissian (Columbia)

Colebrook, R. and Sarkissian, H. "Objectivity." Encyclopedia of Evolutionary Psychological Science. Edited by Todd K. Shackelford and Viviana A. Weekes-Shackelford (Springer)

ABSTRACT: In this entry, we outline the ways in which evolutionary theory has implications for the objectivity of morality.

Sarkissian, H. "Virtuous contempt in the Analects." The Oxford Handbook of Chinese Philosophy. Edited by Justin Tiwald (Oxford)

ABSTRACT: I argue that understanding the role of despising or contempt in the Analects is important in appreciating Kongzi’s dao in two related though distinct ways. First, I argue that in parts of the Analects morally exemplary individuals (such as the nobleman) are straightforwardly described as despising and holding certain individuals in contempt. Second, I suggest that reflecting on the targets of contempt in the text might help to uncover some of the tacit worries that Kongzi may have had concerning his own teachings on self-cultivation. Specifically, I will argue that trying to embody Kongzi’s teachings—including mastering the ritual minutiae of the waning Zhou high culture—risks making one pedantic, pretentious, and glib, and that this helps us understand why such individuals are held out for particular contempt in the text. In the concluding section, I state more general reasons why we might consider certain negatively valenced emotions such as contempt to be morally laudable.


Sarkissian, H. "Folk platitudes as the explananda of philosophical metaethics: Are they accurate? And do they help or hinder inquiry?" Journal of Indian Council of Philosophical Research

ABSTRACT: The field of metaethics, the branch of moral philosophy that examines the nature and status of morality, is rich in theoretical diversity. Nonetheless, a majority of professional philosophers embrace a subset of theories that affirm the existence of objective moral facts. I suggest that this may be related to the very method that philosophers use to construct metaethical theories. This method involves analyzing how ordinary people think and argue about morality. Analysis of ordinary moral discourse is meant to reveal common platitudes (or truisms) about the nature of morality itself, including the platitude that morality trades in objective moral facts. But do philosophers investigate ordinary moral discourse in any systematic way? How do they arrive at such platitudes? On what grounds are they jusified? In this paper, I critically examine these questions, and argue that a) any such platitudes need to be investigated systematically through empirical research, and b) philosophers ought to be engaged in this research themselves.[>>>PDF] alt text

Sarkissian, H. "Situationism, manipulation, and objective self-awareness". Ethical Theory and Moral Practice 20:489–503

ABSTRACT: Among those taking the implications of situationism seriously, some have suggested exploiting our tendency to be shaped by our environments toward desirable ends. The key insight here is that if experimental studies produce reliable, probabilistic predictions about the effects of situational variables on behavior—for example, how people react to the presence or absence of various sounds, objects, and their placement—then we should deploy those variables that promote prosocial behavior, while avoiding or limiting those that tend toward antisocial behavior. Put another way, some have suggested that we tweak situations to nudge or influence others toward good behavior. A question arises: Isn’t this manipulative? In this paper, I describe some existing proposals in the literature and consider the manipulation worry. Drawing on classical Confucian ethics, I argue that, when all is considered, it is chimerical to think we can refrain from influencing or manipulating others. We must rather accept that influence (whether intended or not) is part of social existence. Once we accept this, the only remaining question is how to influence others. I suggest that this should make us conceive ourselves in an objective fashion.>>>PDF alt text

De Freitas, J., Sarkissian, H., Newman, G.E., Grossmann, I., De Brigard, F., Luco, A., and Knobe, J. “Consistent belief in a good true self in misanthropes and three interdependent cultures.” Cognitive Science

ABSTRACT: People sometimes explain behavior by appealing to an essentialist concept of the self, often referred to as the true self. Existing studies suggest that people tend to believe that the true self is morally virtuous, i.e., that, deep inside, every person is motivated to behave in morally good ways. Is this belief particular to individuals with optimistic beliefs or people from Western cultures, or does it reflect a widely held cognitive bias in how people understand the self? To address this question, we tested the good true self theory against two potential boundary conditions that are known to elicit different beliefs about the self as a whole. Study 1 tested whether individual differences in misanthropy — the tendency to view humans negatively — predict beliefs about the good true self in an American sample. The results indicate a consistent belief in a good true self, even among individuals who have an explicitly pessimistic view of others. Study 2 compared true self-attributions across cultural groups, by comparing samples from an independent country (USA) and a diverse set of interdependent countries (Russia, Singapore, and Colombia). Results indicated that the direction and magnitude of the effect are comparable across all groups we tested. The belief in a good true self appears robust across groups varying in cultural orientation or misanthropy, suggesting a consistent psychological tendency to view the true self as morally good.>>>PDF alt text

Sarkissian, H. Review of Foundations for Moral Relativism, by David Velleman. Journal of Moral Philosophy 14.1:116-119.

ABSTRACT: Review of David Velleman's Foundations for Moral Relativism. Yes, clicking this pulldown provided only redundant information. Sorry about that.>>>PDF alt text


Huebner, B. and Sarkissian, H. "Cultural evolution and prosociality: widening the hypothesis space." Behavioral and Brain Sciences.

ABSTRACT: Commentary on Norenzayan et al's target article "The cultural evolution of prosocial religions". >>>PDF alt text

Sarkissian, H. and Nichols, R. (2016) "Chinese philosophy as experimental philosophy." In The Bloomsbury Research Handbook of Chinese Philosophy Methodologies. Edited by Sor-hoon Tan (Bloomsbury)

ABSTRACT: In this chapter, we outline the methods and aims of experimental philosophy as a methodological movement within philosophy, and suggest ways in which it may be employed in the study of Chinese philosophy. >>>PDF alt text

Sarkissian, H. (2016). “Aspects of folk morality: objectivism and relativism.” In The Blackwell Companion to Experimental Philosophy. Edited by Wesley Buckwalter and Justin Sytsma (Blackwell)

ABSTRACT: Most moral philosophers work under the assumption that ordinary folk morality is committed to objectivism—that ordinary folk view morality in absolute terms. This datum serves to constrain and shape philosophical metaethics, since those working in this field feel compelled to make sense of it. In this chapter, I discuss why philosophers take on this commitment. I also outline the relevant experimental research exploring whether, and to what extent, ordinary folk think of morality in absolute terms. Finally, I turn toward a more general discussion of what implications this work may have for philosophical ethics. >>>PDF alt text

[reprint] Flanagan, O., Sarkissian, H., Wong, D. (2007). "Naturalizing Ethics". In *Blackwell Companion to Naturalism. Edited by Kelly Clark (Blackwell)

> This is a reprint of Flanagan et al (2007), below. Please see original paper for abstract and to download.


Sarkissian, H. (2015). "When you think it's bad it's worse than you think: Psychological bias and the ethics of negative character assessments". In The Philosophical Challenge from China. Brian Bruya (Ed.). MIT Press.

ABSTRACT: We often find ourselves thinking of others as boring, nauseating, dim, dodgy, clumsy, or otherwise irritating or unpleasant. What’s the right thing to do when we have such thoughts? Some philosophers argue we ought to be civil and conceal them, lest others pick up on them and feel disrespected. Drawing on experimental psychology and classical Confucianism, I argue otherwise, suggesting that we ought to (literally) doubt such appraisals and be wary of their veracity.>>>PDF alt text

Sarkissian, H. (2014). Supernatural, social, and self-monitoring in the scaling up of Chinese Civilization. Religion, Brain, and Behavior 5(4), 323-327.

ABSTRACT: An invited commentary on Ara Norenzayan's Big Gods: How Religion Transformed Cooperation and Conflict, focusing on whether early China constitutes an exception to his general theory. >>>PDF alt text


Sarkissian, H., Wright, J. C. (2014). "Experimental Moral Psychology: An Introduction". In Advances in Experimental Moral Psychology. Hagop Sarkissian and Jennifer Cole Wright (Ed.). New York, NY: Bloomsbury Press.

ABSTRACT: An introduction to the volume bearing the same name, tracing the recent history of experimental moral psychology and summarizing the contributions to the volume. >>>PDF alt text

Sarkissian, H. (2014). Is self-regulation a burden or a virtue? A comparative perspective. In The Philosophy and Psychology of Character and Happiness: An Empirical Approach to Character and Happiness Nancy E. Snow and Franco V. Trivigno (Ed.). (pp. 181-196). Routledge Press.

ABSTRACT: Confucianism demands that individuals comport themselves according to the strictures of ritual propriety—specific forms of speech, clothing, and demeanor attached to a vast array of life circumstances. This requires self-regulation, a cognitive resource of limited supply. When this resource is depleted, a person can experience undesirable consequences such as social isolation and alienation. However, one’s cultural background may be an important mediator of such costs; East Asians, in particular, seem to have comparatively greater self-regulatory strength. I offer some considerations as to why this may be so, and what insights it may afford to theories of virtue generally. >>>PDF alt text

Sarkissian, H. (2014). Review of Virtue Ethics and Confucianism, Edited by Stephen C. Angle and Michael Slote (Routledge). Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews.

[reprint] Sarkissian, H., Park, J., Tien, D., Wright, J., Knobe, J. (2014). Folk moral relativism. In Experimental Philosophy Vol. II. Joshua Knobe and Shaun Nichols (Ed.). (pp. 169-192).

This is a reprint of Sarkissian et al "Folk Moral Relativism" (2010), below, for an anthology of papers in experimental Philosophy. See the original paper for abstract and to download.


Sarkissian, H. (2013). "Ritual and Rightness in the Analects". In Dao Companion to the Analects. Amy Olberding (Ed.). (pp. 95-116). Springer.

ABSTRACT: Li (禮) and yi (義) are two central moral concepts in the Analects. Li has a broad semantic range, referring to formal ceremonial rituals on the one hand, and basic rules of personal decorum on the other. What is similar across the range of referents is that the li comprise strictures of correct behavior. The li are a distinguishing characteristic of Confucian approaches to ethics and socio-political thought, a set of rules and protocols that were thought to constitute the wise practices of ancient moral exemplars filtered down through dynasties of the past. However, even while the li were extensive and meant to be followed diligently, they were also understood as incapable of exhausting the whole range of activity that constitutes human life. There were bound to be situations in life where there would be no obvious recourse to the li for guidance. As part of their reflections on the good life, the Confucians maintained another moral concept that seemed to cover morally upright exemplary behavior in these types of situations. This concept is that of yi or rightness. In this chapter, I begin with a brief historical sketch to provide some context, and will then turn to li and yi in turn. In the end, I will suggest how li and yi were both meant to facilitate the supreme value of social harmony that pervades much of the Analects and serves as its ultimate orientation. >>>PDF alt text


Buckwalter, W., Knobe, J., Nichols, S., Pinillos, N. Ángel, Robbins, P., Sarkissian, H., Weigel, C., Weinberg, J. (2012). Experimental Philosophy. Oxford Bibliographies Online. DOI: 10.1093/OBO/9780195396577-0162

ABSTRACT: A bibliographic review of the state of the field in experimental philosophy, with sections on moral judgment, metaethics, free will, consciousness, epistemology, and metaphilosophy. >>>PDF alt text

Sarkissian, H. (2012). 因小得大: 情境论于道德哲学的困难与可能 (Minor Tweaks, Major Payoffs: The Problems and Promise of Situationism in Moral Philosophy), translated by 黃玉娥. 中国哲学与文化 (The Journal of Chinese Philosophy and Culture), 9.

ABSTRACT: This is a translation of "Minor Tweaks, Major Payoffs" (2010) prepared by 黃玉娥 for the Journal of Chinese Philosophy and Culture for a special issue edited by Brian Bruya on cognitive science and early Chinese philosophy. >>>PDF alt text

Knobe, J., Buckwalter, W., Nichols, S., Robbins, P., Sarkissian, H., and Sommers, T. "Experimental Philosophy". Annual Review of Psychology 63.1: 81-99 (2012)

ABSTRACT: Experimental philosophy is a new interdisciplinary field that uses methods normally associated with psychology to investigate questions normally associated with philosophy. The present review focuses on research in experimental philosophy on four central questions. First, why is it that people's moral judgments appear to influence their intuitions about seemingly non-moral questions? Second, do people think that moral questions have objective answers, or do they see morality as fundamentally relative? Third, do people believe in free will, and do they see free will as compatible with determinism? Fourth, how do people determine whether an entity is conscious? >>>PDF alt text

Sarkissian, H. "고전 유교에서의 감정: 내면과 외면" ("Emotions in Classical Confucianism: Inside and Out"), in 유교 도교 불교의 감성이론 (Theories of Emotion in Confucianism, Daoism and Buddhism), edited by Yonghwan Chung. Seoul: Kyung-in Publishing Co. (2012)

ABSTRACT: Classical Confucian thought is full of discussion of human emotions, reflecting a preoccupation with the inner life-how one ought to feel 'on the inside', as it were. Yet alongside these passages are others that seem, by contrast, to be concerned with matters external to one's emotions and psychology: how one ought to dress, speak, walk, and talk. Yet passages such as these, which draw attention to details of individual expression and comportment, are not at all tangential when it comes to understanding the Confucian perspective on emotions. On the contrary, I argue that they reveal a sophisticated view of emotional life, one that illuminates how our outer appearance and comportment profoundly shape both how we feel and how others around us feel. Looking at emotions in this fashion-both inside and out-gives us not only a deeper appreciation of early Confucian thought but also can serve as a resource for us to reevaluate the way we understand emotions today. {Translated into Korean by Yonghwan Chung} >>>PDF alt text


Sarkissian, H., Park, J., Tien, D., Wright, J., Knobe, J. (2011). Folk moral relativism. Mind & Language, 26(4), 482-505.

ABSTRACT: It has often been suggested that people’s ordinary folk understanding of morality involves a rejection of moral relativism and a belief in objective moral truths. The results of six studies call this claim into question. Participants did offer apparently objectivist intuitions when confronted with questions about individuals from their own culture, but they offered increasingly relativist intuitions as they were confronted with questions about individuals from increasingly different cultures or ways of life. In light of these data, the authors hypothesize that people do not have a fixed commitment to moral objectivism but instead tend to adopt different views depending on the degree to which they consider radically different perspectives on moral questions. >>>PDF alt text


Sarkissian, H. (2010). Recent Approaches to Confucian Filial Morality. Philosophy Compass, 5(9), 725-734.

ABSTRACT: A hallmark of Confucian morality is its emphasis on duties to family and kin as weighty features of moral life. The virtue of ‘filiality’ or ‘filial piety’ (xiao 孝), for example, is one of the most important in the Confucian canon. This aspect of Confucianism has been of renewed interest recently. On the one hand, some have claimed that, precisely because it acknowledges the importance of kin duties, Confucianism should be seen as an ethics rooted in human nature that remains a viable system of morality today. On the other hand, some have argued that the extreme emphasis on filial duties is precisely the aspect of Confucian moral philosophy that ought to be jettisoned in favor of greater impartialism; without mitigating its emphasis on filial piety, Confucianism risks irrelevance to modern concerns. In this paper, I will outline the nature of filial morality in the Confucian tradition and discuss these recent contributions to the literature. >>>PDF alt text

Sarkissian, H. (2010). Minor Tweaks, Major Payoffs: The Problems and Promise of Situationism in Moral Philosophy. Philosopher's Imprint 10(9), 1-15.

ABSTRACT: Moral philosophers of late have been examining the implications of experimental social psychology for ethics. The focus of attention has been on situationism—the thesis that we routinely underestimate the extent to which minor situational variables influence morally significant behavior. This has been cause for alarm in some quarters, where situationism is seen as a threat to prevailing lay and philosophical theories of character, personhood, and agency. In this paper, I outline the situationist literature and critique one of its upshots: the admonition to carefully select one’s situational contexts. Besides being limited in application, this strategy accentuates an untenable person/situation dichotomy. The deeper lesson of situationism lies in highlighting the interconnectedness of all social behavior—how we are inextricably involved in the actions of others, and how minor tweaks in our own behavior can lead to major payoffs in our moral lives. Thus, I argue that situationism is better seen as an opportunity for moral progress than a threat to individual autonomy. >>>PDF alt text

Sarkissian, H., Chaterjee, A., DeBrigard, F., Jelly, C., Knobe, J., Nichols, S., Sirker, S. (2010). Is Belief in Free Will a Cultural Universal? Mind & Language, 25(3), 346-358.

ABSTRACT: Recent experimental research has revealed surprising patterns in people's intuitions about free will and moral responsibility. One limitation of this research, however, is that it has been conducted exclusively on people from Western cultures. The present paper extends previous research by presenting a cross-cultural study examining intuitions about free will in subjects from the United States, Hong Kong, India and Colombia. The results revealed a striking degree of cross-cultural convergence. In all four cultural groups, the majority of participants said that (a) our universe is indeterministic and (b) moral responsibility is not compatible with determinism. >>>PDF alt text

Sarkissian, H. (2010). The Darker Side of Daoist Primitivism. The Journal of Chinese Philosophy 37(2), 312-329.

ABSTRACT: The Primitivist (responsible for chapters 8-11 of the heterogeneous Zhuangzi) has largely been interpreted as just another exponent of the philosophy of the Laozi or Daodejing. This is a shame, because the Primitivist is an idiosyncratic thinker whose theories do not simply reiterate those found in the Laozi. In this essay, I argue that even though the Primitivist embraced some of the values of the Laozi’s brand of Daoism, (e.g. simplicity, harmony with nature, being rid of knowledge, etc.) he would have censured its prescriptions; he had little faith that order could be achieved through an emphasis on minimalism, by doing nothing, or by advocating a change (or reversal) in values. Instead, the Primitivist suggests that the only way to curb the massive disorder of the late Warring States period was to purge the world of its root causes—namely, of all the artifice that kept the masses in competitive, violent strife—and suppress their reappearance. Without such a purge, the masses would be helpless to lead a natural, instinctual, pre-reflective mode of existence. By advocating such a strategy, the Primitivist seems to have membership in what must be a very exclusive group: he is a Daoist who thinks the world can only be brought into order by 'doing something'—indeed, doing a whole lot of unpleasant, nasty things. I thus situate the Primitivist within the trend toward authoritarianism that characterized the period in which he wrote (3rd century BCE). >>>PDF alt text

Sarkissian, H. (2010). Confucius and the Effortless Life of Virtue. History of Philosophy Quarterly 27(1), 1-16.

ABSTRACT: Natural talent and diligent practice regularly lead to effortless virtuosity in many fields, such as music and athletics. Can the same be true of morality? Confucius’s wonderfully terse autobiography in the Analects suggests that, given the right starting materials and an appropriate curriculum of study, a program of moral self-cultivation can indeed lead to effortless moral virtuosity. But can we make sense of this claim from a contemporary perspective? This paper evaluates the plausibility of the moral ideal in the Analects using resources from contemporary moral psychology. >>>PDF alt text

Huebner, B., Bruno, M., Sarkissian, H. (2010). What does the nation of China think of phenomenal states? Review of Philosophy and Psychology 1(2), 225-243.

ABSTRACT: Critics of functionalist theories of the mind often rely on the intuition that collectivities cannot be conscious in motivating their positions. In this paper we consider the merits of appealing to this intuition that there is nothing that it’s like to be a collectivity. We report empirical evidence demonstrating that collective mentality is not an affront to commonsense. We also report experimental evidence demonstrating that resistance to collective mentality is culturally specific rather than universally held. Finally, we provide evidence that the source of this intuitive resistance to collective mentality is at least partially a product of our Western cultural heritage. Thus, we argue that mere appeal to the intuitive implausibility of collective consciousness does not offer any genuine insight into the nature of mentality in general, nor the nature of consciousness in particular. >>>PDF alt text


Phelan, M., Sarkissian, H. (2009). Is the 'trade-off hypothesis' worth trading for? Mind & Language 24(2), 164-180.

ABSTRACT: Recently, the experimental philosopher Joshua Knobe has shown that the folk are more inclined to describe side effects as intentional actions when they bring about bad results. Edouard Machery has offered an intriguing new explanation of Knobe’s work—the 'trade-off hypothesis'—which denies that moral considerations explain folk applications of the concept of intentional action. We critique Machery's hypothesis and offer empirical evidence against it. We also evaluate the current state of the debate concerning the concept of intentionality, and argue that, given the number of variables at play, any parsimonious account of the relevant data is implausible. PDF alt text


Phelan, M., Sarkissian, H. (2008). The folk strike back: Or, why you didn't do it intentionally, though it was bad and you knew it. Philosophical Studies, 138(2), 291-298.

ABSTRACT: Recent and puzzling experimental results suggest that people’s judgments as to whether or not an action was performed intentionally are sensitive to moral considerations. In this paper, we outline these results and evaluate two accounts which purport to explain them. We then describe a recent experiment that allegedly vindicates one of these accounts and present our own findings to show that it fails to do so. Finally, we present additional data suggesting no such vindication could be in the offing and that, in fact, both accounts fail to explain the initial, puzzling results they were purported to explain. > PDFalt text


Flanagan, O., Sarkissian, H., Wong, D. (2007). "Naturalizing Ethics". In Moral Psychology, Vol. 1: The Evolution of Morality: Adaptations and Innateness. Walter Sinnott-Armstrong (Ed.). (pp. 1-26). MIT Press.

ABSTRACT: In this essay we provide (1) an argument for why ethics should be naturalized, (2) an analysis of why it is not yet naturalized, (3) a defense of ethical naturalism against two fallacies—Hume’s and Moore’s—that ethical naturalism allegedly commits, and (4) a proposal that normative ethics is best conceived as part of human ecology committed to pluralistic relativism. We explain why naturalizing ethics both entails relativism and also constrains it, and why nihilism about value is not an especially worrisome for ethical naturalists. The substantive view we put forth constitutes the essence of Duke Naturalism. >>>PDF alt text

Flanagan, O., Sarkissian, H., Wong, D. (2007). "What is the nature of morality? A response to Casebeer, Railton and Ruse". In Moral Psychology, Vol.1: The Evolution of Morality: Adaptations and Innateness. Walter Sinnott-Armstrrong (Ed.). (pp. 45-52). MIT Press.

ABSTRACT: A response to comments by William Casebeer, Peter Railton, and Michael Ruse on the paper above ("Naturalizing Ethics"). >>>PDF alt text